Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Diplomacy With Iran Pays Off And Turkey’s Real Motive

Posted in Iran by Dan on May 18, 2010

The always-intellectual Stephen Walt has an interesting piece over at FP about his recent experience in Turkey.  And just in the nick of time.

Yesterday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Lula da Silva negotiated with the Iranian Government for an astounding 18 hours over Tehran’s nuclear program.  And from all reports- ranging from mainstream publications like the Washington Post to Middle Eastern media outlets like The Majlis– the diplomatic headaches paid off.

According to the newly-signed document, Iran has agreed to send 2,640 pounds of its low enriched uranium out of the country in exchange for 265 pounds of higher grade nuclear fuel for its Tehran research reactor.

I’m not going to speak about the new agreement right now, because in all honesty, the Brazilian-Turkish-Iranian dialogue basically produced the same thing that Iran agreed to last October.  The difference is that the United States and the U.N. Security Council were not participants in the process, and Iran has a significantly larger amount of uranium than they did earlier in the year.  In fact, one of the reasons why I’m a bit wary about this new accord is based precisely on those two elements; the big powers were not included, and the U.S. may reject it out of suspicion that Iran would still be left with a sizable portion of its uranium after the transition occurred.

Rather, what’s interesting about this entire ordeal is the participation of Turkey, and its willingness to host the fuel-swap agreement on its own soil.

Is this a just a ploy to get a couple of attention grabbing headlines in the world press, or is the Turkish Government truly worried about what could happen in the Middle East if Iran acquired the knowhow and capability of nuclear weapons production?

I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that it’s a combination of the two.  Turkey knows that the Arab world would respond in a negative way to a nuclear-armed Iran, and it surely understands the extent Israel would go to if they felt that their own security was threatened.

But they also know that hosting the deal is a great way to gain some publicity, both in the West and in the Arab world.  Prime Minister Erdogan and his party desperately (in a good way) want to improve Turkey’s stature in the international community, particularly as a pragmatic, peaceful, and tolerant country able to rationalize with the most important global actors in the world today.  And butting themselves into the world’s most contentious security dispute is a surefire way of doing this.

If the deal falls apart or if the United States and Europe don’t bless the agreement, then perhaps Turkey (and Brazil for that matter) will suffer. But if the deal somehow works- like allowing bridging the trust deficit between the west and Iran or convincing Tehran that the acquisition of nuclear weapons is detrimental to its security- then Erdogan’s credibility as a ruler and Turkey’s position as a mediator will improve significantly.

As a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and as an aspiring regional power, that’s all Turkey may want at the end of the day.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Stephen Walt at FP.com**


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2 Responses

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  1. Ian said, on May 18, 2010 at 3:59 am

    Its a little muddy right now. This conference was about the increasing Regional political power of Turkey, hosted by Turkey. Why on earth would they then bring in the quaqmire of internal politics of a country with Turkey’s history over the last 50 years or so when they want to portray a resurgent, friendly with all, energetic, imaginative Turkey? That’s why internal politics was only discussed in private with a few people, and never mentioned in the open.

  2. DeBeerLight said, on May 18, 2010 at 4:01 am

    The positive benefits of not having a military regime calling the shots – conflict naturally enhances their importance.

    On another note, Turkey’s foreign policy shift vis a vis Israel somewhat undermines the balance of threat theory in explaining their alliance. Rather, i guess it was Turkey and Israel’s common western identity and Turkey and Israel’s need to reinforce this identity that was at the heart of the partnership. With AKP in and the military out, Turkey’s western identity has become less prominent and the Turkish-Israeli relationship has followed suit. Meanwhile the same threats and security issues prevail.


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